BES’s innovative business model is retooling the design to MFG process, moving ideas to reality along the way
The moment came when Dan Bodenstein was working for a startup company on an embedded sensor. He needed help with the design and manufacturing of the gadget, and discovered there were no local, independent design and manufacturing consultancies that could help him get his gadget from the drawing board and into production.
"If you're just an individual, an inventor, or someone with an idea, there was no one to turn to," Bodenstein, founder and chief operations officer of Boulder Engineering Studio, explained.
Like any good entrepreneur, Bodenstein and his partner John English (now BES' chief technology officer) decided to fix that problem. "We set out to kind of answer that and provide prototyping services with a wide range of skills."
The result is Boulder Engineering Studio, a firm that aims to provide entrepreneurs, startups and established companies a wide array of services stretching all the way from the initial design of a product to the actual full-scale manufacturing of that product. BES does all this with a team of just a handful of people: two mechanical engineers, two electrical engineers, three manufacturing technicians, a business coordinator, and a computer engineer who focuses on the software side of things. Due to its size, Bodenstein explained that the company needs its team to be "cross disciplined." For example, one of the company's mechanical engineers also has degrees in biochemistry and physics. "The reason we're able to do (the work we do) is having a fantastic staff that has diverse skill sets," Bodenstein said. "Having that wealth of knowledge under one roof is extremely helpful."
A prime example of BES' speed and flexibility comes from an unlikely source: a toy company startup. Bodenstein said that BES was approached last year by some entrepreneurs with a PowerPoint presentation of the toys they wanted to build. They were five weeks away from launching a Kickstarter campaign for the toys, and needed 13 unique prototypes built for the effort. The project required the design and creation of Printed Circuit Boards and accompanying software, including battery management functions and Bluetooth capabilities. Oh, and an iPhone app to boot.
"We were able to put that together in about three and a half weeks. That's an example of how quickly things can happen when priorities are clear," Bodenstein said, noting the company outsourced the development of the iPhone app. "It was a lot of work and a lot of fun." He said the company plans to begin commercially shipping its first toys next month.
Beyond designing and prototyping products--and doing the hardware, electrical and software work--Bodenstein said a big part of BES' value proposition is assembling the necessary third-party suppliers to get a project finished. "We work with a lot of local vendors … and do the whole supply chain management. The emphasis is always, 'how locally can we get this done?' We do a lot of getting that supply chain set up and getting those dots connected," he said, adding that the company often is the bridge that connects entrepreneurs with local suppliers like injection molding companies and machining and lathe providers.
Bodenstein said that BES expects to report gross revenues in 2013 of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million. "We're hoping to do more next year," he said.
Challenges: Bodenstein said one of BES' biggest challenges is controlling the company's schedule--making sure the company remains busy without getting overloaded. The key, he said, is "being able to deliver when you say you're going to deliver."
"There's a real art to project scheduling and project management," Bodenstein added.
Opportunities: "We always get to work on such a diverse mix of projects. We're never bored," he said, adding that BES is often running between 7 and 10 projects at a time.
Needs: "Finding good talent is extremely challenging," Bodenstein said. He explained that the company spent seven months searching for its current senior computer engineer, and finally ended up hiring him away from Zipcar.
BES' other need is equally acute: "There's a real limited amount of real estate and space available" in Boulder, Bodenstein said. "I could give you a rant about office space in the Boulder area." He said BES spent much of 2013 searching for a permanent office location, and just this month moved into it at 3297 Walnut Street in Boulder.